Reaching Readers: The Door-to-Door Theory

August 27th, 2007 · 12 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I have been thinking a lot about about advertising lately. I have decided, much against my natural skeptical instinct, to accept the theory that it works. This despite the obviously flawed quality and rather obscure messages. Yesterday at the gym, I saw four commercials in a row…and not a single, clear, understandable explanation about the purpose of the products being advertised.

Generic ads make readers feel like numbers.

Though, after a day’s consideration, I have determined that the Council of Meadows has banded together with the Association of Shorelines to extol the virtues of both.

I have long believed that book advertising is largely about preaching to the choir, not reaching actual readers. Of course, mass market advertising — such as during, oh, Lost — is extremely expensive and the economics of publishing simply can’t justify the cost for most authors. Fair enough. There are lots of other ways to advertise books.

But today, I am laser-focused* on display ads. Specifically, the Harlequin ad rotating on a page at the Boston Globe site. It’s at the top of my page; hopefully you will see it, allowing you to play along at home. It’s a pretty generic ad, not so much advertising books as the publisher.

I am singling out this ad because it’s both the problem and the solution. First a (brief) history lesson. A key component of the success of Mills & Boon (and, it followed, Harlequin) was the fact that publisher loyalty was retained via a well-developed, hardcore book club. An outgrowth of the catalogue direct mail program begun in the 1950s — catalogues were mailed to potential customers who were encouraged to ask their retailers and librarians for interesting books — the direct mail book club became a giant in its own right.

After all, what better customer than one who makes purchases every single month?

Even as quarterly earnings reports suggest that the direct mail operation is flagging, the publisher continues with an online strategy that focuses on bringing in more book club subscribers. This has generally been the publisher’s marketing strategy: more house oriented, less author oriented. Their affiliate initiatives are about selling the book club, not books (though, certainly, you can argue that one leads to the other).

If getting readers to buy books regularly is a solution, then the generic nature of the advertising campaign is the problem. The ad I’m seeing is not terribly slick, well-produced, or even tempting. There is no sense of excitement, no really inducement to click (2 free books? Today’s consumer is simply too jaded to fall for that advertising come-on, even though I am certain those who are teetering on joining the book club will succumb).

And while the ad is sitting on a page targeted toward newspaper readers who are interested in book news, I’m not sure that the Boston Globe is a key destination for romance readers. Now, the Globe does have some good book coverage and, thanks to the power of blogs and easy linking, awareness of book coverage in major papers is spread worldwide quickly and cheaply. This is not a bad move on the part of the publisher.

It is, however, fairly typical of how publishers advertise. I’ve been wondering for a while why more publishers don’t engage in targeted micro-advertising? Sure, the bigger sites get the bigger numbers, but the smaller sites get the more, shall we say?, targeted fans. I’m thinking that it should be a key aspect of publisher “blogger outreach” initiatives to include advertising on the sites. You know, rather than asking the bloggers to give up space, energy, and effort for free, why not give some back in the form of advertising dollars?

Make it a more symbiotic relationship rather than a one-way street.

Done right, spending $10,000 on advertising campaigns would reach a far wider range of interested readers than a $100,000 campaign in the New York Times Book Review. The display ad in the print publication would, by definition, be limited to a small message, a book or so, while online advertising could encompass more books, more authors, more diversity.

And, yes, creating such a campaign would create the impression that readers are valued by the publisher. Generic ads make a reader feel like a number. Ads that suggest books that appeal specifically to a particular community tell readers that the publisher knows the audience, knows what they like, and is willing to give them all that and more.

Trust me. This will work.

* – Meaning I am likely to go off topic at any moment

File Under: The Future of Publishing

12 responses so far ↓

  • Ashamed to Admit I was Complicit // Aug 27, 2007 at 10:28 am

    I’m afraid I must say that advertising is a pretty awful business. It turns the artist into a prostitute and the hack into a millionaire. Not only that it appears to actually hurt our society as a whole.
    According to the Washington Post, TV ads are responsible for seniors behaving like teenagers — selling drugs and having unsafe sex. TV ads for Viagra and “free-love retirement are to blame! You don’t need to be a genius to know watching Dennis Hopper sell stock portfolios is dangerous but who knew it would lead to an HIV epidemic?? I’m shocked by the level evil working on Madison Ave.

  • Nicola Griffith // Aug 27, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    I think the best advert for a book is the physical book itself. This is why publishers spend all that money on front-of-store placement, coop stuff etc. It’s why giving out a gazillion galleys works.

    Advertising, it seems to me, is all about desire. If you can make a subway user or a motorist or Lost-watchers look up, see a picture of a book, and think, “Oooh, I want that,” then it works.

    The book itself triggers the I-want-this cascade: the smell, the heft, the juicy hints in the flap copy, the photo of the author, the opening paragraph. Until publishers are willing to write ads that come out and say, ‘Hooh, baby, this book will change your life! You need it! You need it more than wine, more than sex, more than that six-pack of diet coke! Buy it now now now!’ there’s no way an ad can compete with the book itself…

    …unless it’s a video book trailer, complete with music and salacious images , which *can* trigger that book lust. In a manner of speaking.

    The exception, of course, is the really good book trailer, b Just my two cents

  • Nicola Griffith // Aug 27, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Oops, just ignore the last line of that last comment. One day I’ll learn to proof…

  • Kassia Krozser // Aug 27, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    I’m fairly certain this is a “no proofing allowed” blog. Of course, I’d have to check the rules, and I’m not likely to do that.

    I absolutely agree that the best advertisement for a book is a book. If I were to confess the number of times I’d been seduced by cover art or clever cover copy (or, yes, an interesting author bio), I’d probably be embarrassed. I mean, I buy books because they have just the right shade of green.

    That being said, something has seduce the reader into the bookstore (and convince her that the wine is secondary — though, let’s be honest, wine and books are like the perfect couple). Something needs to suggest to that person that there’s a book that will rock her world (or his world, I shouldn’t be sexist). While I agree that the gazillion galleys is a great approach, as someone who is ashamed to admit that she gets far too many books, I think that approach needs to be coupled with traditional (in a manner of speaking) advertising.

    And speaking of book trailers — have you seen any that have knocked your socks off? I’m curious because I haven’t really paid as much attention to this phenomenon as I should. Mostly because my preferred mode of inbound information is text.

  • Kassia Krozser // Aug 27, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    Ashamed, I’d say your secret was safe with me, but, well, it’s not. Of course, someone was bound to make the Dennis Hopper/drugs/seniors connection eventually.

  • Nicola Griffith // Aug 27, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Good book trailers? I can’t remember any specifically (and there’s a clue on their efficacy…) but they just seemed, well, nifty. If I’d seen a good book trailer for, say, Tipping the Velvet I would have bought it in a hot second.

    There again, if I’d seen an ad for something like The Memoirs of Hadrian ten years ago while I was watching a History Channel programme, I would have bought that, too. I didn’t even know that book *existed* until relatively recently.

    There’s got to be a middle ground somewhere on this stuff…

  • Kassia Krozser // Aug 27, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    Yeah, that’s my problem (trailers for close friends excepted — I am completely biased with my friends!). I do agree that the trailer has great potential…of course, how the trailer reaches me is as important a question as the greatness of the trailer. I *want* to know about great books (Hadrian??? Must check this out).

    There is a middle ground. I promise. You know what they say: we have the technology…

  • Hope: A four letter word? « // Aug 28, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    […] stock it. Whew, that was a close one. You should probably go read these articles about advertising (Reaching Readers: The Door-to-Door Theory, How to Promote, Advertise, and Market Your Book )to avoid this situation next time. After […]

  • Speaking of blogs... // Aug 29, 2007 at 9:26 am

    I’ve noticed that, if we’re talking about small communities, specifically online, giving out some well-placed ARCs goes a very, very long way. I’ve been hanging around one messageboard dedicated to artsy surreal books and the more lumbering epic fantasies for about four years, and in the past two, some publishers have found it, either through the authors that the board recruits for interviews and promo if they like them, or through the quite good reviews that people put up. And they’ve started sending ARCs to some of the better reviewers, who quite happily put reviews up on their blogs and the board…and because it’s a small place, maybe 200-300 people, people know who likes what and other posters do tend to go out and get the books that sound good. Plus, for one person, he’s developed a giant blog dedicated to reviewing his ARCs, and gotten an even bigger following. He’s have fun, and the publishers have to be too, because he certainly advertises their books for them if he likes them. Anyway. As far as I can tell, giving ARCs to non-professional but active critics is one of the best and cheapest ways to advertise, and it’s quite successful.

  • Tina Wainscott // Aug 30, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Found this interesting and thought I’d share an article I wrote about author promotion…Could definitely relate to selling books door to door!


    Help! I’m drowning in promotion!

    We mass market fiction authors are taught from the get-go that self-promotion is vitally important to our career. We compulsively track our sales numbers, Amazon rankings, and other list positions and scream to the heavens: What can I do to affect those numbers? And so we go forth into the abyss, trying to carve our names and book covers into the consciousness of the masses.

    Back in the day, bookmarks were the golden child of promotion. Relatively cheap, easy to transport, and if you put a provocative picture on the front, all the better. Then one day, bookmarks became the red-headed stepchild of promotion.

    Next came advertising. Taking an ad in any major magazine was a huge chunk of money. For a few hundred, you could advertise in magazines like Romantic Times Book Reviews, and I remember spending a whole $40 on an ad in the now-defunct Gothic Journal. Advertising, though, was iffy in terms of visible payback. The ad came and went in a month. Well, sort of like our books.

    Then the Internet became the new frontier, offering endless opportunities to obsess and promote. The warning sounded over writers loops everywhere: All authors must have a website! So, now most authors and even wannabe authors have websites. And if you’re going to have a website, might as well host a contest, too. Oh, and an e-newsletter. Recently the hot discussion was whether to blog or not. Don’t even get me started on MySpace, Podcasts, and Amazon Plogs….

    If you can’t handle good, old-fashioned promo sweat, how about a gimmick? Was it pressure or just the dazzle of the holy grail of bestsellerdom that pushed authors to scandalously buy their way onto the New York Times list? But that’s so old school. Now there’s a public relations firm that charges a chunk of cha-ching to push your book up the Amazon rankings list.

    The brand-new shiny way of promoting books is the book video. For the as-of-yet-uninformed, these are essentially movie trailers for books. They run from twenty-seconds to over five minutes long and can show either static images that float around the screen all the way to live-action videos with actors, cameras, and locations. I jumped on this wave, because this one looked exciting and visual in a way no other promo did. Writers-in-Motion® created a Book Short® for my July 2007 suspense, UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE with actors and a script that captures a few scenes from the book in full dimensional form. I can’t wait to start showing it off to potential readers who spend too much time watching YouTube and not enough time buying and reading books. Like much of the promotional efforts authors undertake, I’ll probably have little sense as to whether it worked. But it was a heck of a lot of fun to make, and I’m hoping it will generate enough additional sales to justify doing another one.

    I have to ask, though, where does it end? Will authors start cold-calling random phone numbers begging for a chance to read an excerpt of their book? Will we start barging in on book club meetings hawking our tome as next month’s selection? We could go back to the past and paste bills over walls like so much graffiti. Hmm…graffiti. Imagine Tina Wainscott’s latest book rocks! spray painted on overpasses everywhere!

    Will the madness stop? Let me consult my trusty Magic 8-Ball: “Outlook not so good.” Yeah, that’s what I thought. With more avenues for promotion springing up every day: “Very Doubtful.” With reports of dwindling book sales: “My sources say no.”

    So it appears we’re stuck in this era of must-promote. I made a promise to myself: I’m not going to jump on every bandwagon; only the ones I enjoy doing. For my money, I’m liking the book video. It will be in existence for as long as the Internet is, and I actually enjoyed creating it.

    Now the big question: Will I stop obsessing over promotion? “Reply hazy, try again.”

    Tina Wainscott is the best selling author of 13 suspense books from St. Martin’s Press. Please, watch her book video! It’s at her fully-functional website:

  • Ashley // Jan 28, 2008 at 5:25 am

    Thanks alot. This was a really informative page and I will be making a trailer as a result, I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • From Idea To Publication: An Optimistic Realists View of the Publishing Process « Kate Moss: Writer // Jun 7, 2010 at 5:09 am

    […] stock it. Whew, that was a close one. You should probably go read these articles about advertising (Reaching Readers: The Door-to-Door Theory, How to Promote, Advertise, and Market Your Book )to avoid this situation next time. After […]